AFC East: Seneca Wallace
The year was 2008.
The Seahawks had a 2-10 record. Seneca Wallace was their starting quarterback. Mike Holmgren was their coach. Pete Carroll was at USC.
Now, for the really different part: The Seahawks' defense, currently ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, ranked 30th back then. It had allowed six total rushing and passing touchdowns in its previous two games, one more than the 2012 team has allowed in five games this season.
Brady is back and leading the NFL's top-ranked offense against Seattle's top-ranked defense in Week 6. The teams kick off Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, Brady's first road start against the Seahawks. The matchup has us talking already.
Mike Sando, NFC West blog: The last time an NFC West team drew New England, Arizona pulled off one of the more shocking upsets of the season, holding Brady to 18 points and leaving Gillette Stadium with a 20-18 victory. New England lost Aaron Hernandez to injury in that game. The Patriots have regrouped. They've scored 113 points in three subsequent games. Was that Arizona game an aberration, or should the Seahawks' defense expect similar results?
James Walker, AFC East: It feels like two different offenses since New England’s loss to the Cardinals, Mike. New England looked shell-shocked after losing Hernandez in that game. He's usually such a big part of the Patriots’ game plan that they had trouble adjusting on the fly. But New England made the proper changes. Tight ends no longer are the first option; now receiver Wes Welker is the top target. New England is no longer passing the ball 60 or 70 percent of the time; its run-to-pass ratio was 54-31 this past week against the Denver Broncos. The Patriots also used a no-huddle offense in all four quarters for the first time in that game. Can New England keep up that kind of pace, especially on the road? The Patriots are concerned about crowd noise in Seattle. Will the 12th man affect this game?
Sando: Yeah, the crowd will be a factor because the defense is good enough to make it one. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo combined for 19 points in Seattle. Brady and the Patriots are playing better offensively than Green Bay or Dallas, though. One key will be whether Brady can get the ball out to Welker quickly enough to avoid Seattle's pass-rushers. Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons and Jason Jones could have big games against the Patriots' offensive front if Brady holds the ball. But Welker should have a big advantage against nickel corner Marcus Trufant. Welker leads the NFL with 24 receptions from the slot over the past three games. Seattle's opponents haven't gone after Trufant all that much, but St. Louis slot receiver Danny Amendola did give him some problems. Welker is a tough matchup for everyone and should be a tough one for the Seahawks.
Walker: Seattle’s pass rush is the biggest concern for New England. Brady’s sack totals have gone up each of the past three seasons, and he already has been sacked 12 times in five games. Brady is not a young pup anymore and only has so many hits left in his 35-year-old body. New England’s pass protection hasn’t been the same after losing left tackle Matt Light and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters in the offseason. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and guard Logan Mankins also have played hurt this year. The Patriots have done things schematically to counter their shaky pass protection. New England is running the ball more, and the no-huddle has slowed down opponents. But you wonder whether the inconsistent pass protection eventually will catch up to New England this season, especially this weekend against a good Seattle defense.
Sando: Seattle's defense was good last season, and it's better in 2012. This is a legitimate top-five defense with big, pressing cornerbacks and the potential for a strong pass rush, particularly at home. The Seahawks are allowing 3.2 yards per carry overall and 3.0 when we remove quarterback scrambles (Brady isn't exactly a running threat). There's speed at every level of the defense. Holding the Patriots' offense to a reasonable level -- say, somewhere in the 20-point range -- should be realistic as long as Seattle fares OK against Welker. The bigger question is whether Seattle's offense can score enough points to win the game. Russell Wilson is coming off his best game, but the offense isn't putting up enough points.
Walker: New England’s defense has improved in a lot of areas. The front seven is more physical and the pass rush is better, specifically with the addition of first-round pick Chandler Jones. However, New England is still 30th against the pass and continues to give up chunks of yards through the air. The safety play has been horrific at times. I think Seattle’s best chance to win is using play-action over the top. Patriots coach Bill Belichick usually tries to take one thing away, and I assume the focus this week will be Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. There will be plenty of opportunities in the passing game if Wilson can take advantage. Speaking of taking advantage, your NFC West division has crushed the AFC East at nearly every turn. What is going on here? Is this a special year for the NFC West, and will Seattle repeat what the Cardinals did by knocking off the top dog in the AFC East?
Sando: I've gone into several of these nondivision games a little skeptical about whether the NFC West team would score enough to win. The offenses in Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis lag in the rankings. But the defenses and special teams have more than made up the difference. I think Seattle has a winning formula and a good shot at pulling it off, but I still think Brady is more likely than Wilson to reach 20-plus points.
I've had similar thoughts before and been wrong. I really thought some of these top opposing quarterbacks would enjoy greater success against the NFC West. Brady, Jay Cutler, Rodgers, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Romo, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are a combined 2-8 against the division, and both victories were against St. Louis. Those quarterbacks have seven touchdown passes and nine picks against the division. Outside the division, NFC West teams have gone 10-0 at home and 11-3 regardless of venue.
I'll probably wind up picking the Patriots, but Seattle's defense gives the Seahawks a good chance.
Walker: It looks as if the AFC East is having a second consecutive down year, and the arrow is certainly pointing up for the NFC West. But the Patriots are a legit team. Barring significant injuries, I expect New England to carry the banner for the division all season. I’m 15-2 predicting AFC East games this year, so I feel pretty confident in my picks. I think New England will pull this one out. The Patriots’ offense is very balanced, and their tempo puts a lot of pressure on teams. If they score points early, it could put too much pressure on Wilson to answer. Wilson has beaten Rodgers, Romo and Newton this year. But I don’t think Wilson will add Brady to that list.
DAVIE, Fla. -- What a great day to be a reporter at the Miami Dolphins facility.
An opposing player, this time Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall, called out Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter the day before. Wednesday was Porter's first chance to respond, and with a day to formulate a response, the material promised to be blog gold.
To make the setup even juicier, Porter conducted a conference call with Seattle Seahawks reporters in advance of Sunday's game before appearing at his locker.
On the call, Porter bemoaned his recent fines for criticizing officials and openly wondered why Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Matt Jones hasn't been punished for being arrested on felony cocaine charges.
"I'm still trying to figure out how a guy gets caught with cocaine in the car and he still plays the game and nothing happens to him," Porter said. "They ain't had no penalty or nothing. I'm trying to figure that out. He got caught with some cocaine in his pockets. Everybody knows it. But Matt Jones is still up there playing football and nothing's ever happened to him. So I'm still trying to figure out how you get away with that, and you're fining people $20,000 for making comments about media or refs."
Those comments sounded like a warmup act for an explosive session with South Florida reporters.
But Porter switched gears. He briefly touched on Marshall's comments, but wanted to talk more about Barack Obama and how there's a belief in the Dolphins' locker room anything can happen in the AFC East race.
The first question was about Brandon Marshall:
Porter: I'm not going to spend no time on this guy. He's not a threat to me. That game is over. They got a game [Thursday], and he's worried about me. I mean, you might want to watch him, though, making comments about another man's muscles. That's not really want you want to be doing in the locker room. You shouldn't want to be making those comments about somebody's muscles.
What about Marshall's comments about you dancing shirtless in clubs?
Porter: I'm over that. Barack Obama. Today's a history day for me. I witnessed something great [Tuesday] night, so I'm not going to let Brandon Marshall mess with my day today. Today is a great day, a day for change. So Peezy's going to change today. I'm going to be the bigger man and turn the other cheek and not even worry about this young dude right here.
Would you like to meet the Broncos in the playoffs to settle this on the field?
Porter: See? That's the problem. We're giving this guy too much limelight right now. We're talking about him. Now we're getting caught in that same trap. Let's not talk about him. We're about to play Seattle. I need to be talking about how I'm going to try and stop Seneca Wallace and thee rest of these guys. I'm not giving [Marshall] no more attention. It worked. You get your little five minutes of fame. You was on TV. Hopefully, everybody in your family seen you on TV. I hope that worked for you. Now let's move on. We're supposed to be brothers! Barack Obama, man.